By Alexander Chan
Northwest Asian Weekly
An alleged hate crime against an Asian American business owner from January demonstrates that racism and bias against Asians and Asian Americans are unlikely to disappear when concerns over COVID-19 subside.
Daniel Sesung Park immigrated from South Korea to the United States 35 years ago, and has since become a U.S. citizen. Park has proudly owned the JB Mart convenience store in Bonney Lake for 13 years. However, on Jan. 20, he became a victim at his own place of business when 29-year-old Brian Connor McKenna allegedly threatened to kill Park and directed anti-Asian slurs towards him.
Park described the ordeal with McKenna in an interview with the Northwest Asian Weekly. Park did not recall ever previously meeting McKenna. Park explained that McKenna had been in JB Mart earlier in the day randomly uttering expletives and causing a disturbance.
“He acted like he was talking to someone on the phone but you could tell that he was just screaming, saying bad words, talking to no one. He looked as if he was high on drugs.”
Reports from the Bonney Lake Police Department indicate that McKenna then returned to JB Mart in the evening. After being asked by Park to leave, McKenna began making racially derogatory statements about Park being Asian. McKenna allegedly told Park that his ethnicity meant that he was not an American and that Park lacked rights as a business owner because he was Asian. Police reports also indicate that McKenna told Park that he would kill him and physically hurt him. Park captured many of McKenna’s threats to commit violence and racial epithets on his phone.
“He said that I was Asian and not American, so I couldn’t tell him to leave.”
Police officers arrested McKenna at JB Mart that same night. McKenna allegedly uttered additional racial slurs about African American inmates after learning that he was going to be transported to the Pierce County Jail on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney charged McKenna with a hate crime and felony harassment for his racist comments towards Park. McKenna remains in custody. Park said that he had obtained a restraining order against McKenna.
“I want to ignore him. I hope he gets treatment.”
Prosecutors declined to comment on the McKenna case as it is still pending. Concerns have been raised over McKenna’s mental competency to stand trial. A competency hearing is scheduled for July 1. Requests for comment to McKenna’s attorney have not been returned.
Adam Faber, a spokesman for the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, did explain to the Northwest Asian Weekly the process that his office follows for evaluating racially-motivated crimes.
“All criminal referrals that come to our office are from law enforcement. Anytime we receive a referral of a potential hate crime, that is taken seriously. Our deputy prosecutors evaluate the police reports and other information to determine which elements of crimes, including hate crimes, are provable.”
Many of the documented incidents of racism, bias, and hate crimes towards Asians and Asian Americans in the Puget Sound area over the last several months have been attributed to ignorance over the COVID-19 outbreak. However, what stands out about the McKenna case is that his alleged racism seemed entirely unrelated to COVID-19. McKenna does not appear to be an outlier either as the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office just a week ago charged 28-year-old David Altamore with a hate crime for allegedly threatening to kill the leader of China, while yelling racial slurs at an Asian couple.
Park is an optimist. He is grateful and thankful for the support that he has received from Bonney Lake residents. He recommended that other Asian business owners try to establish connections in their communities.
“Most people respect Asian people. We are working hard. We’re friendly.”
Alexander can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.